July 8, 2008 by

What I REALLY Think About the Institutional Church


Categories: food for thought, You need to read this

When I’m talking to someone and they start ranting and raving about something, one of my favorite things to say to them (tongue-in-cheek) is: “Oh, don’t beat around the bush; tell me what you REALLY think.”

A lot of time is spent on this blog de-constructing various aspects of institutional Christianity. Taken together, it might seem like so much ranting and raving. So today, I thought I’d tell you what I REALLY think about the institutional church.

I love it.

(Well, not the “institutional” part, so much as the “church” part.)

You see…all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are the church, the Body of Christ, whether they be Protestant, Catholic, Pentecostal/Charismatic, evangelical, emergent, house church, whatever. All those elements are adjectives that give an indication of what the practice of our faith looks like–but the faith is the common element. We differ in our practices, and in points of doctrine; but even with common creeds like the Apostles’ Creed, what really identifies us as Christ-followers is Person we are following, not the doctrinal statement we happen to hold.

This is important to re-state from time to time, because (as history shows) it is so easy for us to get an us-versus-them mentality about other Christians who do not believe or practice certain things the way we do. For those of us who are in various stages of leaving the institution, we need to not fall into the same snares of divisiveness against our brothers and sisters.

The church is the church, wherever, whenever, and however we meet, institutional or not. Jesus loves the institutional church, because He sees the church inside the institutions. And we are commanded by Him to love one another as He loves us. So while I question those things about the institutions that I see as counter-productive…I still love the church within those institutions. Passionately.

I have been involved with house church for over 8 years now; but I still minister in more traditional settings where I am welcomed, because it’s still the church, and I’m still part of the church.

I am not against institutions for their own sake; I am for what works, and for what is best for us. My number one issue with institutional Christianity is not that I think it’s wrong (as in right versus wrong), but that I think it doesn’t work well, especially in our day. I think it limits us and keeps the church from being all that she could be. It’s still an opinion–one that is informed by study and experience. Not a doctrine.

While there is little Biblical support for the institutional forms of church, that is not why I question them. As I’ve said several times now, just because something is extra-Biblical does not make it anti-Biblical. But if the form is not working well, and Scripture itself does not support it…that’s when it’s time to re-think.

Even so…I do not have an agenda to tear down the institutions by what I say here. I think God is dealing with institutional Christianity in His own way, and He does not need our help. I feel that the trends we’re seeing are evidence that God is doing something, and all I want to do is respond to that in kind–and that’s a lot of what I’m writing about on this blog.

But I still love the church. And if you are following Jesus, so should you. Jesus commands it of us.

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

12 Responses to What I REALLY Think About the Institutional Church

  1. lyn

    “My number one issue with institutional Christianity is not that I think it’s wrong (as in right versus wrong), but that I think it doesn’t work well, especially in our day. I think it limits us and keeps the church from being all that she could be.”

    I couldn’t agree more. My husband, as a church pastor who is very much on a emerging missional journey, spends most of his time getting our church out of the “in here, program orientated mind set” and into the “lets get into our community and be church out there” mentality. It’s hard work, some are very set in their ways, but like you we know that the church can be so much more than she currently is, it’s like she lost half of her mandate at the moment! Like you say, God is moving.

  2. Sarah

    As always, well said, Jeff! I agree with not being against institutions for their own sake. I think what I have felt is that institutions have a tendency to behave as power structures, where men exert power over other men – according to the value system of this world. They may not start out with that intention, but this is a general observation I’ve made. And I see that value system as a stark contrast, actually an anti-thesis to the value system and likeness of Christ.

  3. Steve Oberg

    Amen – as always you are the voice of reason. BTW, I was not being critical of you on my own blog the other day.:)

  4. Mork

    Wise words Jeff – even though I often sound sarcastic re the established church I must never forget that I stand where I am today on the shoulders of mighty men and women of God who were a part of the establishment.

  5. Jeff McQ

    You’d be surprised at how much we still struggle with the inward thinking as a house church, as well. It really involves a foundational change of thinking, doesn’t it?
    BTW…just curious…you mentioned your husband is a church pastor. What are your plans when you move to Canada, both for yourselves and for the church you’re currenly leading?

    Amen, Sarah. 🙂

    Steve, thanks…aaaand I didn’t take your blog personally. 😀

    Well said, Mork. Nearly all of us stand upon such shoulders, don’t we?

  6. shaun

    I agree that the institutional church doesn’t really work at least in the primary function of the church. I think that the “establishment” has done and still does really wonderful things, but I think that the primary function of evangelism (and bringing His kingdom here) is more the work of us as The Church and individuals. I still believe all most all of the really important stuff that makes me believe that God loves me, I learned in Sunday School.

  7. James G.

    I’m slowly becoming a fan of your blog. An excellent post, I think it captures the heart of the Lord where it comes to the matter of viewing the institutional church. I’m always reminded of this question from Paul, “Is Christ divided?” when I think of the state of our church today. It seems like there are so many issues that Christians get divided over these days. I think it is always best to seek out ways to be united to our brothers and sisters.

  8. Mark

    I have to admit to having such mixed feelings about the institutional church. I still know many people there and I love them. An institutional church is where I first made a decision to follow Jesus as a child.

    On the other hand it is the institutional church that nearly caused me to give up on Jesus all together as an adult.

  9. Tracy Simmons

    So well said, Jeff. One thing I keep seeing about the IC is that while it is not in and of itself “bad,” “wrong,” or “evil,” the structure itself does seem to lend itself to so much more neglect of the things that are important to the heart of Jesus, more so than simpler forms of meeting together. But, there’s no cure-all, I know :-), not even in home church.

  10. kathyescobar.com

    well said, jeff! i know there are tons of great things about the institutional church that work for some people. i don’t want to for a minute discount people’s experiences. everyone’s on a journey and in all different places. but we are well aware that there are many, many, many who are “done” with the structure & the institution but more passionate about Jesus than ever. i believe we need to keep cultivating communities, spaces, places that help people live out their faith in all kinds of crazy ways….

  11. lyn

    Church wise it’s worked out well for us. My husband left our last church 18 months ago to come to our current church and help his friend out who needed some help with leading his church through a transition, so Jon is here as an assistant rather than lead pastor, and the church have always known that we were only here on a temporary basis due to our immigration.

    When we move to Canada Jon is coming out of ministry. After 14 years he is completely burnt out and needs a break. He will be running his own web design company. However he is aware and open to the fact that he will probably end up back in ministry – maybe more like what you are doing? For the time being we are going to be attending the naked pastors church (I think you read him?) as we have forged a great relationship with the community where he is based over the past three years now. It will be good for a time to have no leadership commitments and just “be” together!

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